daniel cohen reviews the new denzel drama…
Plot: After pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) miraculously lands a plane during a disastrous flight, he’s heralded a hero. But when Whitaker is investigated for drinking while flying, he must come to terms with his alcoholism.
Flight – Good first act. Mediocre second act. Great third act. That’s my review…I’m kidding, of course. But that’s generally how I felt about Robert Zemeckis’ first live action feature since 2000’s Cast Away. And while the third act of this film is spectacular, and there are superb acting moments all the way through, there is a huge chunk of mediocrity in the middle that keeps this from being great. But let’s start off on the positive side of things.
The acting is damn good all around. Denzel Washington is what you’d expect…awesome. He’s charismatic as hell, but it’s the scenes that delve into Whitaker’s alcoholism where he really shines. There are two scenes in particular that truly stand out. One is with his newly found friend, recovering junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly) as he drinks in front of his dad’s old crop dusting plane, and the other is with his teenage son (Justin Martin) that is just heartbreaking. Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, and John Goodman also play great roles in trying to help Whitaker through his investigation, for better or worse. And even though Goodman is only in 2-3 scenes, he makes his comedic presence known. There’s even a couple lines of dialogue that are Big Lebowski Walter-esque. The problem with the film though is that it doesn’t spend enough time with these characters, and the pacing suffers because of it.
What’s so infuriating about Flight is that the main story of Whitaker’s alcohol problem and the investigation of the plane crash is all fascinating, yet the movie spends too much time on this other character, Nicole. She almost has as much screen time as Whitaker, and I have no idea why. She’s not interesting at all, she’s just another addict who Whitaker can relate too, but script doesn’t really do anything with it. In the first act, we start to get to know who this guy is as the build up to the accident takes place, and it’s well written, interesting, funny, sad, and yet the film keeps cutting back and forth between his story and Nicole, who I just didn’t care about. And these are long scenes too. Just focus on the protagonist! It destroys the pacing. Now once we do get to the actual plane crash, it’s an extraordinary sequence. It’s as pulse pounding as you could possibly imagine. Zemeckis definitely out does his Cast Away plane crash.
And while we have the plane crash in the first act, the second act becomes more character focused on Whitaker’s drinking, as well as some great tension between Whitaker and his lawyer Hugh Lang, played by Don Cheadle. As I said before, the main plot is a big thumbs up, yet this Nicole character continues popping up taking screen time away. Aside from one great scene, the conversations these characters have together are just boring, and not nearly as gripping when it’s focused on Whitaker and Hugh, or Whitaker and his best friend Charlie (Greenwood) as they try and break down potential charges Whitaker may face despite the fact that he’s branded a hero. That’s the stuff I want to see! But this secondary character continues to slow up the movie big time.
It’s not until the third act where the film finally fires on all cylinders. The Nicole character is gone, and it’s 100% focused on the pending hearing. What I love about the third act is how much it keeps you guessing. There’s a scene in a hotel room where it’s late at night, and the tension created in these moments makes you cringe, but in a good way. As the film starts heading towards the climax, I really had no idea what the resolution was going to be as the fate of this guy is so up in the air due to his own unpredictability. The script throws you a lot of curve balls, and even the music cues fake you out. And the cherry on top is that it’s all resolved by a brilliant call back to what takes place during the crash that you forget about, but when reminded of it, it’s really a perfect book end. It’s an incredibly intense final 20 minutes, and Denzel Washington is in perfect form.
The highpoints of this film are worth the price of admission. The plane crash is ridiculous, the acting is stellar, the character study of Whitaker’s alcoholism is as compelling as it gets, and it’s got a strong finish. But overall, it’s paced way too slow. It goes back to this Nicole character who’s just completely unnecessary, as she nearly derails the film. And it’s not the actresses’ fault, she’s fine, but if she wasn’t here, Flight could have really taken off. Yeah, I went there.
Also, just as a side note, this film has the most morbid and unsettling product placement in the history of movies. There’s a really heartbreaking scene where Whitaker gets drunk, and the whole scene is about how he needs to go to rehab and get help, yet Whitaker holds his beer right up to the camera so everyone can see it’s a Rolling Rock. It’s clearly product placement, but I’m sorry, advertising beer during a dramatic moment about how a character needs to stop drinking…That’s messed up.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)